The outcome of the so-called Colston Four trial last week caused a stir amongst commentators and politicians alike.

Readers will recall the scenes of the mob in Bristol tearing down the statue of Edward Colston, a philanthropist who gave away much of his fortune to good, local causes. Whilst philanthropy was, and always will be, a good thing, the controversy around Colston was the source of his wealth – slave trading.

The Colston statue had been controversial for many years and a campaign had been launched to remove it. But whilst there was a good hearing for the reasons for getting rid of it, in the end, the Labour led local council always came up with reasons not to remove it. He was, after all remembered for his philanthropy and not his then legal activity of being a slave trader.

Britain was one of the first countries to abolish slavery and we actively engaged for decades in trying to wipe it out with a huge investment in naval resources to destroy the west African trade.

It is entirely understandable that a community has strong and differing feelings of its history and the Colston was certainly a symbol of that division. It is a very good thing that we as a society condemn slavery and we have even recently brought in a new act to tackle modern slavery.

But the controversy started when the mob over-ruled the decision of the community’s elected representatives. Tearing down the statue was a criminal offence, as the Colston Four admitted at their trial. But their defence was that in committing a crime, they were stopping a worse crime, that of causing outrage to the public by leaving the statue in place. And the jury agreed, finding them innocent.

So does this mean the jury system is flawed, as some have said? Does it mean that this gives license to anyone tearing down things they don’t like?

The answer to both questions is no.

Tear down a statue to someone you don’t like and you will be tried. A different jury may well find you guilty. And this is the point. A jury trial may have its controversial outcomes, but it is a truly independent device to keep the government, in all its forms, at a distance from justice. Being tested by our fellow citizens means we will never have a situation when a politician or civil servant can deem you guilty of something they don’t like. The Colston Four trial serves to remind us of how precious that jury system is.